I’m not good at fasting. I don’t like it. And it makes me grumpy. Anna should really be writing this post instead of me…she seems to have the fasting thing down cold.
Nevertheless, here we are. Today is Ash Wednesday. Lent starts today, and I can’t very well skip it when I’ve already blogged about it for the whole cyber-world to see. Plus, I know that a) it’s commanded, b) it’s blessed.
David Maddalena (brightsadness.org) writes, “When we let our stomachs stay empty for just a little bit longer than we’re used to, we learn something powerful about our weaknesses, our needs, and our desires. This, in turn, makes room for God to teach us something powerful about his strength, provision, and grace.” Translation: I’m a real crank when I’m hungry…which helps remind me that there is still so much that Jesus needs to sanctify in me.
There are many great resources on fasting and on Lent. I especially recommend brightsadness.org. The site includes background on Lent, practical fasting recommendations, and daily devotions guides. So, if you’re not sure what I’m talking about, go there, or to my previous post. If you’re ready to dive into Lent, read on.
The next 40 days are an opportunity for us to stand in solidarity with the vulnerable. The Bible exhorts us to “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Hebrews 13:3). What if we took that seriously for the next 40 days (or even a few days) and actually tried to understand what it feels like to suffer? Here are some options to ponder:
Option 1) Eat only two meals per day. If you are like me, this actually means cutting out one meal plus two or three snacks (ooh, I love snacks). In the rural villages where our Truth-Centered Transformation Program works, the vast majority of people eat only two meals per day. They simply don’t have enough food to eat more often. They consider the wealthy to be those who eat three times per day.
Option 2) Eat only what you can make yourself. Choose not to eat out or buy any packaged food. Most people in the developing world don’t have those options, or could not afford that luxury. In fact, in the rural areas we reach out to, most people eat only what they can grow.
Option 3) Eat relief rations. Remember those pictures of famines, war-zone refugees or hurricane devastation—maybe on the news or fundraising appeals? Have you ever tried to imagine the reality of those walking through that kind of suffering? Eating what they eat for a few days puts a lot of things in perspective. Here is the standard emergency food ration for one person for one day (I got this from the World Food Programme and spent about an hour converting it from grams, because I love you, gentle reader):
- 2 cups dry rice (you get to cook it, of course)
- 1/3 cup dry beans or lentils (or 1 cup canned beans)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (I’m being generous.)
- 1/3 cup of corn-soy blend. (Since I’ve never seen “corn-soy” blend at the grocery store, I suggest you substitute corn, cornmeal or tofu.)
- 4 teaspoons sugar (maybe throw in an unrationed cup of coffee to go with that sugar?)
- 2 ½ teaspoons salt
That’s it. The whole day.
Option 4) Give up a “luxury.” I take for granted SO MANY LUXURIES, actually believing they are basic needs. But the vast majority of people on this planet do not have running water inside their home, a flush toilet, central heat, a washing machine, a dishwasher, ice… Need I go on? Get creative. Between you and God, choose one luxury that you will try to do without in an effort to identify with the poor.
Whatever fast you choose, please give away the difference of the money you would have spent on meals or needs, um, luxuries. Just make sure you give to an organization that is helping without hurting and focused on the vulnerable. If you are skipping meals, redirect that time to sitting with the Lord…pray for the poor and the suffering. If you are spending LOTS of extra time washing your laundry or dishes by hand, you can spend that time talking with God too! I suggest you pray through Isaiah 58.
At this point, I should also let you know that you don’t have to fast on Sundays! Every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection, so according to church tradition, that is a day to break your fast, enjoy your freedom in Christ, and rejoice in God’s grace and goodness. Even during Lent.
Friends, Lenten fasting is a spiritual exercise meant to draw us closer to God. If you are like me, it is very easy to turn this into approval-by-works. That denies the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Whatever you accomplish, try, fail at…whatever you eat or don’t eat in the next 40 days…you are accepted, forgiven and redeemed. Jesus paid it all.